Daniel Abraham, author of A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter, made some waves earlier this year with the release of his collaborative novel, Hunter’s Run. The interesting thing, however, is who he collaborated with: Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin. So how did a relatively new author like Abraham (who you’ll find out has perhaps been on the scene longer than some people realize) hook up with two legends? Well, you’ll just have to read an find out!
As many of my readers know, I’m always a sucker for a short, lean novels and that’s exactly what Abraham sets out to deliver with his first series of novels, The Long Price Quartet. Enough rambling! Read on and see what Daniel Abraham has to say. You won’t be disappointed.
Q. Daniel, welcome to A Dribble of Ink and thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions!
It’s a pleasure to be here.
Q. You’ve got six words to describe your novels. Go!
Political fantasy with Asian set dressing.
Q. I’m always intrigued by Fantasy and Science Fiction authors who write short, lean novels. Was it your intention to write short novels or did it simply happen that way due to the story that needed to be told?
It happened fairly naturally for me. I think it’s a question of the writer’s natural tendencies and kinks. I happen to have a massive hangup about wordcount which many of my colleagues find unnerving. For instance, I decided before I started the fourth book in the series that it was going to be 134,000 words long. The draft I turned in was 133,681. Having targets like that keeps me focused on. Whenever I think â€œooh, that would be coolâ€, I also have to think about whether it fits, what I’d need to get rid of to put it in, whether it actually serves the greater story. Things like that.
That said, the next project I’m looking at may have higher word counts. Hopefully the prose will stay as tight. It’s just a different kind of story.
Q. As you just mentioned, one problem that many authors seem to have is â€œfeature-creepâ€, essentially adding in every cool idea they think of, something you (smartly) try to avoid. I’m curious how this affects your novel when it comes time to edit. Do you find that thinking it through beforehand means less time littering the cutting-room-floor with material during subsequent drafts?
I think it does make the editing a little more about adjusting things and a little less about taking a knife to them. I’m not sure how much that affects the overall time spent in the process, though. I still go back and forth with my editor quite a bit, usually making things clearer that I’ve underplayed. I wind up adding more on edit instead of cutting.
Q. You recently collaborated with George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois on a novel called Hunter’s Run. How did you get involved in a project that is based on a story that was originally written when you were still very young?
Well, a few years ago, George took me out to dinner and said â€œSo, Daniel. How would you feel about a three-way with two old fat guys.â€ Then it turned out it as a writing project, and I think I said yes out of reliefâ€¦
Seriously, though, George and Gardner were both instructors of mine when I went to the Clarion West workshop back in ’98. They’d seen a fair amount of my work, Gardner had bought some stories from me, and when they thought about dusting off Shadow Twin (the novella on which Hunter’s Run was based), they thought of me.
Q. This collaboration was recently referred to as a combination of Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. How does an author react to bold statements such as this?
Graciously, I hope. It was a great review for Hunter’s Run, and I’m pleased we’re getting such a great response to it. As far as the comparisons to the gods of adventure literature, it’s kind of like the â€œhave you stopped beating your kids yet?â€ question. If I agree, I’m an arrogant ass. If I disagree, I’m belittling my own book. There’s no win.
Q. Why the name change for Shadow Twin (the original title of the novella which Hunter’s Run)?
Well, the Shadow Twin novella was actually published as a stand-alone chapbook by the fine folks over at Subterranean Press. The idea of having two different books with the same authors and the same title seemed like an invitation to trouble, and changing our names seemed a little extreme, so we changed the book’s name instead.
Q. Over the last ten or so years you’ve had many short stories published, but A Shadow in Summer was your first published novel. What differences are there in the way you approach the crafting of a novel and a piece of short fiction?
Well, especially for A Shadow in Summer, the process was mostly the same, just bigger. I did the same kind of outlining that I do for short work, I did more than one draft, just like for short work. The only real difference was the scale of things. I had to develop a kind of trust that by really working on the scene at hand and following the outline, the whole thing would come together. With a short story, I can hold the whole thing in my head at once. I don’t have enough neurons to get that kind of gestalt for a whole book.
Q. How has life changed since A Shadow in Summer?
Well, I had a daughter come out the month after the book, so it’s kind of hard to say which one is really responsible, but my day to day life is pretty different. I was computer tech support for about ten years, and now I’m a stay-at-home dad. I’ve been getting a lot more writing done, I’ve changed a lot more diapers, and I have a very different sense of, say, the importance of deadlines.
Q. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! What has been the most gratifying thing (besides your new bundle of joy, of course!) to happen since being published for the first time?
So, going back for a moment to Hunter’s Run. There were some other folks who had looked at the project and for whatever reason didn’t pick it up. I don’t know if they didn’t spark to it or had other commitments. But one of those was Michael Swanwick. When the novella Shadow Twin came out, he was one of a handful of people who really knew what was George, what was Gardner, and what was mine. He thought my part was pretty good, and he dropped me a line to say so.
A fan letter from Michael Swanwick is pretty much a magic item in my book. I haven’t framed it yet, but I’m tempted.
Q. And the least?
There was one review of A Shadow in Summer by a professional magazine that described a totally different plot than the one in the actual book. I won’t name names, but it had one character who spends most of the book as a dockworker described as a military leader. At that point, the whole writing as communication thing starts feeling a lot like shouting down the surf.
Q. Sounds like Harriet Klausner (The #1 book review on Amazon who’s reliability is suspectâ€¦) syndromeâ€¦. The Long Price Quartet is projected to be a series of four novels. In a world of standalones, trilogies and epic 12 volume series, four seems like an unusual number to tell a story in. What prompted you to decide on four novels?
Alexander Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet was probably the proximal influence. Not that the books are at all similar, but I’d just finished reading those when I started really thinking about the Long Price books. And it was pretty easy to come up with four stories that each stood more or less on their own and still fit together into something larger.
Q. Breaking into the writing field can be a tough and intimidating thing. Can you explain how your relationship with your publisher developed?
It’s actually the standard story. I worked for years with no luck, and then something weird and unexpected happened. In my case, I sold a story called As Sweet to Realms of Fantasy. Shawna McCarthy is the editor of the magazine, and she’s also an agent. She asked if I had written a novel. I had, and sent it out to her. She read it over, and politely asked if I had another novel. I didn’t, but I’d published a short story in Asimov’s called The Lesson Half-Learned that is the prolog of the first book. She read that story, said, yes, that was my next project, and I ran with it.
Jim Frenkel over at Tor bought it, and he’s been great. I know that a lot of editors have to struggle with the balance between editing and working the marketing angle, but Jim’s made every book I’ve given him better.
Q. You have a blog on your web site, which is something I’m always glad to see an author do as I feel it’s a great way to interact with fans. What does your blog (and by extension your web site) and the blogosphere in general mean to you as an author?
It is, among other things, a great opportunity not to write fiction. It’s a good way, I think, to maintain a conversation with people and let folks know what’s going on with appearances and new projects and such. My blog often winds up being more of a social networking tool than a marketing one, though.
Q. According to your blog, you’ve now completed The Long Price Quartet and it’s in your publishers hands. Where do you go from here? Can you give us a hint of what comes next?
I have a couple things that are looking attractive. There’s an urban fantasy series I sold, and I have an idea for a mystery series that might be fun. For epic fantasy specifically, my ambition is to do a real doorstop fantasy series with a lighter tone more familiar setting that is viciously planned and outlined from the word go. Right now, I know that the setting is quasi-1400s, one of the characters is a girl who has been raised the ward of an international bank, and that the male lead has a soul shaped like a circle â€“ put him in the gutter and he will always rise up, but put him in the palaces and he’ll crash your nation.
The thing is, there’s a real danger in shifting worlds. Stephen Donaldson has an often quoted line that strikes fear into the hearts of fantasy writers: â€œI thought I had a million Stephen Donaldson fans. It turns out I had a million Thomas Covenant fans.â€ I don’t know, by the way, if he actually ever said that, but even as apocrypha, it makes the point. Robin Hobb’s first three trilogies were all brilliant in that they used the same world to tell different stories. The setting of the Long Price books is, I think, pretty much done. There’s nothing I can do there that wouldn’t feel like repeating myself. I’m planning to spend the next year or so designing the new series but also a world to set it in that’s big and rich enough to support a bunch of other stories too.
Q. What books or authors have been taking up the most of your reading time lately?
Actually, I’ve been reading a lot of noir recently. Hammett’s Maltese Falcon, William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel (the book that Angel Heart was based on), and Warren Hammond’s KOP. Oh, and Paul Krugman’s latest economics book, which also has enough human failing, darkness, and greed to fit right in with the others.
Q. Any final words before we wrap this up?
How about â€œThe harder I work, the luckier I get.â€ â€“ Samuel Goldwyn.
Q. Daniel, thanks again for taking the time for this interview and good luck with everything life brings you!
Likewise. It’s always a pleasure.